x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

An urgent need to end teen violence

Packs of teenagers wandering the streets, swords and serrated knifes at the ready, might seem incongruous to life in the Emirates. And yet, police and legal experts say teenage violence is surging.

Ali Mohammed Hassan was barely a teenager, only 13 when he died after being stabbed 11 times last March. Yet it was not the brutality of his murder that most shocked the nation. It was the ages of his assailants: 16 and 17, respectively.

Ali's tragedy was supposed to be a wake up call to the country. Promises to increase youth social programmes and revamp educational offerings sprung up after his death. Dubai's Attorney General Eissa al Humaidan called on society "to take every precaution to stop such crimes taking place".

So one year after young Ali's murder, where are we? As The National reported yesterday, we are still fighting an inexplicable surge in youth and gang violence.

In a society as peaceful and safe as the Emirates, it seems incongruous that teenagers are being arrested for the possession of swords and serrated knives, with real fear that the weapons might be used.

And yet, police and legal experts say teenage violence is surging. While specific numbers are not available, a judge in Dubai told The National thathe had seen a "remarkable" increase in the number of cases involving boys attacking each other with blades.

The Northern Emirates appear to be suffering disproportionately. In Ajman last month, authorities confiscated knives and other weapons from nearly two dozens teens during a door-to-door search. A week earlier, roughly 100 young people were arrested in a late-night sweep; the action followed the murder of a police officer in yet another sword attack.

These incidents are as impossible to accept as they are difficult to explain. Certainly they are the exception. But no matter how rare, all children should be better looked after by parents, and also by society. Something is dreadfully wrong if children are so bored that their only activity is to chase each other with blades.

There may be no quick fixes to this problem. While laws outlawing the sale of weapons to children should be enacted, this alone will not guide young people to the right path. Instead, long-term strategies are required. Attention to and funding for social welfare programmes, educational opportunities and extracurricular activities - anything that keeps children off the streets - should be increased.

Most importantly, efforts must be made to instil in youngsters a sense of ownership over their own actions. Teenage citizens need to understand that their future, and the future of their nation, rests with them.